On Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299 held a student labor town hall in HUB 221. According to its website, AFSCME is the University of California’s largest employee union, representing more than 24,000 employees at UC’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics, research laboratories and UC Hastings College of the Law. The event was comprised of a presentation, panel and Q&A that featured External Organizer Michael Kile, Senior Cook, AFSCME Executive Board Member and Bargaining Representative Jesse Hernandez, Senior Custodian Christine Stuckey and Interns Felisa Vasquez and Lizette Inzunza.
The town hall began with an introduction of the panel members and of AFSCME’s background. “AFSCME’s contract expired and ever since then, the UC has not met any of the demands that AFSCME has been asking for the workers,” said Vasquez. Kile said that the union plans to oppose the university’s unfair labor practices by striking on Wednesday, Nov. 13, between the Arts and CHASS buildings. “The strike is all day but the main ask for students is to be present on the line around noon for the rally and the march,” said Kile.
He continued to state that student support was very important to AFSCME. “The university tries to divide and conquer students and workers … being at the strike line is a key component in both building community and for workers to continue feeling the energy and support of their students. It’s a huge component in their mental health,” Kile said.
According to Hernandez, the upcoming strike is focused on the six unfair labor practice charges the university is facing, all of which regard outsourcing. He stated that outsourced workers had increased from 7,000 to 10,000 in the past three years. “Christine (Stuckey) has a full-time job with benefits and she still has to have a second job. Imagine if you don’t even have a full-time job. We don’t want to eliminate outsourcing. We want to bring those workers in the fold,” he said.
Both Stuckey and Hernandez identified diversity, wages and job stability as relevant issues that are affecting UC workers. Hernandez, who has been working at UCR since 1999, said, “I used to work at Latitude 55. I’m lucky I still have a job. After nearly 17 years, they sat me down and told me they’d close shop. Luckily, the union was able to displace me, but the thing is, without that fight, how would I pay for my bills?”
A flyer was passed around with statistics of diversity within the UC system that highlighted how the percentage of black workers was decreasing, wage disparities between black women and white men in the same position and the lack of a pathway to management positions. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed they really haven’t really hired people of my color as supervisors … We’re still on the bottom. That is not fair,” said Stuckey.
During the panel, Kile reiterated how students could help workers. “The UC will try to claim, ‘Oh, you’re just using students as bargaining chips.’ When students are present, it removes their ability to say that … students can use their position of privilege to push on their administrators.”
Hernandez said he hoped that students would help by joining AFSCME during the day of the strike. “We want the solidarity. The support from students. We’re not trying to shut down the university but we want to be disruptive. I’m asking (students) to boycott services on that day.” He continued to say students could stand together with AFSCME by refusing to buy food on campus or eat in the dining halls.
Another important way that third-year political science major Inzunza said that students can help is by reaching out to their respective organizations and requesting that they sign a petition that will eventually be sent to the UC Office of the President. She explained that 20 organizations signed the petition last year, but she hoped that those numbers would increase. “But it’s not just about endorsing the strike. It’s about actually coming out and organizing a delegation of members to come out.”
The presentation then moved onto the Q&A portion. CHASS Senator Nelson Huerta, who is also a student worker, asked whether working on the day of the strike would go against the values that AFSCME was promoting. Hernandez said that students could support the strike by calling off work to stand in solidarity with the workers. “They (management) cannot retaliate against you. It’s illegal. On that day, it’s a day of protection. You can show solidarity. You have that right,” he said. Inzunza emphasized that there was information on a student worker’s right to strike available. Inzunza stated further that, “When AFSCME or any other worker goes on strike, UC relies on student workers to fulfill that labor gap on that day.”
When a student brought up how concerning it was that dining hall management wasn’t allowing students to take food home, Hernandez said that the administration was ignoring the food insecurity on campus. “Dinner is like $16. They don’t even want you to take water. Again, it shows their priorities,” Hernandez said. Kile also stated that this showed how worker and students’ food and housing insecurity issues are linked. “The UC is trying to make us fight each other for crumbs while they run off enriching themselves. Coming out physically makes a show of solidarity to prevent that,” he said.
The latter half of the Q&A portion of the event focused on the toll on university workers, outsourcing and AFSCME’s support for ACA 14, the University of California: support services: equal employment opportunity standards assembly amendment. Personnel Director Luna Sebastian expressed concern over the workers’ mental and physical health. Hernandez said that that was directly connected to the outsourcing.
Kile said that UCs have tried to cut down costs by eliminating jobs at the lower levels used the firing of 175 UCI Health employees as an example. “They don’t do this to save costs, they do this to bring in more profit,” added Hernandez. He stated that outsourcing is affecting outsourced workers and union workers alike.
Vasquez said that ACA 14, although separate from AFSCME, would help union workers have more job security and help outsourced workers receive the same rights that union members do. Inzunza stated that ACA 14 stopped in the senate because several senators abstained from voting on the amendment. Hernandez added that, “If it passed through the senate, it would go onto the March ballot. Voters decide if it’ll pass. By abstaining, senators such as Richard Roth are not letting the voters decide that.”
The event concluded at 8:05 p.m.